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Sometimes it felt like nothing.
And nothing was good compared to the moments of pain.
Usually the pain came when someone was moving him. Turning him. Pushing him into place as if he wasn't a person at all, but a sack of organs, none of which were working very well.
He wanted to cry out, but he couldn't quite surface. Couldn't quite breach that final push into consciousness.
And even if he were able to open his eyes, even if he were able to form a word or make a sound, the tubes were blocking him. Tubes in his throat and in his arms and up his cock. Tubes draining and siphoning and dripping and pumping.
At one point he felt himself waking up.
Things looked so fuzzy. His eyes couldn't focus. The lights seemed too bright. The voices seemed too loud. It had been so quiet before. So beautiful. So peaceful. Why did he want to come back to this confusion? This pain? Why?
And then he remembered.
He had to.
He reached out with his mind again.
Someone touched him back. They touched each other, very gently.
That was what kept him going while he was trapped in the darkness.
But then he felt the pain begin again.
It started as a throbbing in his left side.
Before it had been hot there, then cold, then numb. That was where all the trouble was. That was where the shank had gone in, ripping jaggedly as it was forced into his tender flesh.
And all the blood that had rushed out from that spot, all the life that had drained from there, was very slow to return.
In the hospital they had filled him with new blood, but so much had been lost that in the ambulance Dr. Gomez and the paramedics had almost given up. Almost. But, luckily, they didn't give up. Luckily for him.
But now he felt this new ache. An infection that crept in and refused to let go.
He felt the heat move through his body. He was already weak and now he was weaker.
He could feel himself slipping backwards.
He could feel himself losing that tenuous connection.
He tried to reach out -- and he couldn't quite make it.
He began to panic. His heart was racing. He was fighting just to stay where he was. Just remaining in place was a battle that he was losing, inch by inch.
Then he felt it. Reaching out for him. To him.
"Don't give up. I'm still waiting, just like I said that I would. Waiting for you."
He felt himself somewhere above his body. It would have been so easy to keep going. To leave, right now. That beautiful place was also waiting. It wasn't very far at all.
"Don't give up! Not now, when you've come this far."
But it was like trying to get through a thick fog. Trying to find your way back without a clue as to the direction.
"I'm trying. But... I can't."
"Don't give up. I'm right here. I'm right next to you."
The ache began to subside. The heat faded.
He could see the ceiling. See the lights overhead. It was still too bright, but it meant that he was back. He was here. And he was going to stay.
And he was breathing softly, all on his own.
He tried to speak, but he still couldn't form the word correctly.
He could only say it clearly in his head.
He repeated it.
"What? What did you say?"
"What do you want? Tell me. I'm right here."
He felt something touching his hand. His hand was cold, but the touch felt warm. He tried to squeeze back.
"That's good. Do it again. You can do it!"
He tried again. He tried to make one of his fingers move. "Resist." It moved, ever so slightly.
"What did you say? Try to say it again."
"Do you want water? I can't understand you."
He was so tired. He just couldn't try anymore today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.
"Don't worry. You don't have to say anything."
No, he didn't need to say anything. The hand squeezed his. It felt nice and warm.
He let himself fall back into sleep. He knew that he would wake up again. He knew that everything would all right now.
"Don't worry. I'm right here."
Something touched his face just before he fell asleep.
"I'll always be right here with you, Baby."
Emmy walked into the Chow Hall at lunch time and looked around for Justin. He wasn't there.
"Hey, Albert, Wesley," Em greeted the pair. When you were talking to a jock and his punk, you always addressed the man first. As a queen who wasn't hooked up with a strong protector, Em was careful about such issues of respect.
"Hey," Al grunted. He tolerated Wesley's friendship with the queens, as long as he didn't have to deal with them too much. Queens were loud and bitchy and they were always in your business.
"Do you mind if I borrow your cellmate for a moment? Please? Sir?" asked Em, deferentially.
Al shrugged and Em pulled Wes out of his chair and over to a quiet corner of the Hall.
"Where's Justin? I stopped by his room and there was no answer when I called in there," said Em in frustration.
"He's in there, Em," said Wesley, his brow furrowed with worry. "I was in there this morning. He didn't go to breakfast because he wasn't feeling too well."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" Em exclaimed. "Not again!" Justin's ups and downs were driving Em to distraction.
"He really DID seem to be sick, Em," Wesley replied. "He drank some pop and I gave him some crackers, too. So it's not like before, when he wouldn't eat anything or even talk to anyone."
Emmy sighed. "Well, that's a good sign -- I think."
"He was supposed to see his mother this morning," Wes added. "And he didn't go. Sergeant Tully came to get him and take him to the Administration Building, but Justin said that he couldn't do it."
"A boy who doesn't want to visit with his mother?" said Em. "Not good at all!"
Wes grimaced. "He told me that his stomach hurt. That he had an ache in his left side that wouldn't go away."
Em shook his head. "We better go up there and see if he needs to visit the doc again."
"They... they aren't going to send Justin to the Psych Ward, are they, Em?" asked Wesley.
"I hope not, babydoll."
"I have to tell Al that I'm going back up to the tier with you, okay?" said Wes. Since the incident on the Yard, Al was even more possessive of his punk than he'd been before and Wesley had to ask permission to take a shower or even go down to the TV Room.
"Sure, honey. You check in with your daddy."
While Em was waiting for Wesley, Ben and Michelle came into the Chow Hall. Michelle was hanging onto the Juice Pig very tightly. Brian's stabbing had affected all of the relationships in the Quad. Queens, and even some of the punks, were trying to hold onto their jockers even more securely than they had before, and the jocks were bristling with possessive tension. Suspicion was high, especially on the Yard and in the Chow Hall where different groups from all tiers and wings were forced to mingle.
Michelle mouthed a greeting at Emmy and then went to stand in the food line for herself and her man. But Ben's blue eyes scanned the Hall. Em saw him staring at a table on the far side of the big room.
The old low-riders' table was once again populated, but by a decimated group. Hoss had already been transferred to a maximum security prison and faced an extension of his original term. And Cisco had also been moved to the Psych Center in Harrisburg. He was definitely facing more time in a max joint as soon as he got out of the hospital. The word on the Quad was that the old biker's dick would never be quite the same again after Justin had skewered it with Cisco's own shank.
Ben strode over to the low-riders' table. Rowdy, Elvis, and Clint were huddled there, trying to look inconspicuous. But Ben leaned over the table and knocked Rowdy's plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes onto the floor.
"What the fuck are you doing, man?" sputtered Rowdy, standing up. Rowdy was tall, but he looked like a physical non-entity next to the pumped up Juice Pig.
"Who gave you scum permission to eat in this Hall?" said Ben, his voice dark and rumbling.
"I... I... this is where we always eat," mumbled Rowdy. He glanced over at his biker road dogs, Clint and Elvis, but the other two guys stared down at their plates. Since Hoss and Cisco had started the trouble with the kid and then taken out Bri Baby, their lives had been fucked up.
The two punks who still remained in the low-rider tip, Pinky and Midget, had gathered up their shit and split the first chance they got. With Hoss and Cisco gone, there was no one to stop them anymore. Both of the boys had already hooked up with other non-biker jocks in the South Wing.
Also, the bikers had begun to be hassled by the black gang in the South Wing, which had rarely happened before. Baraka, the leader of the Bros, had been friendly with Brian and especially with Ron, who had worked to get a number of Baraka's brothers freed over the years, and now the powerful black leader was taking subtle revenge against the low-riders whenever he could. Nothing real big, but small shoves in the food line, glaring looks in the showers, and open hostility on the Yard and in the Gym. And some of Baraka's men were very scary ghetto dudes!
And now here was the Juice Pig in their faces. He had been Bri Baby's best road dog in the Quad and the bikers knew that if Juice started an active campaign against them, then they were truly screwed. All the other big jockers in the East Wing -- Al, Junior, Big John, Bart, Big Melvin, and Stan -- and even some of the jocks in the South Wing -- like Chuck, Rick, and Danny -- were tight with the Juice Pig and had been friendly with Brian and Justin. Rowdy couldn't figure it out. A bunch of jockers getting so fucking upset over some little punk getting ganged and another getting stuck! But Rowdy and the others knew it meant they were in big trouble. That fucking Hoss! And fuck that stupid Cisco! They were gone, but the remaining guys were going to pay the fucking price!
"From now on I don't want to see any of you motherfuckers together," said Juice threateningly. "If you want to eat, come in and do it fast. And do it one by one. And if I see you guys together on the Yard, plotting and scheming, I'll personally break your goddamn wrists!"
Rowdy cringed. A guy with weak wrists had trouble controlling his bike. A Harley was a heavy machine with a big kick. It took a strong grip to hold it to the road. If the Juice Pig fucked up his wrists, then Rowdy might be reduced to riding a fucking rice-burner and no decent club would let someone on a Jap cycle ride with them!
"We didn't do nothing, Juice!" Rowdy whined. "It was Hoss and Cisco!"
"No," said Ben, glowering. "You're all so fucking innocent." He stepped back while Rowdy picked up his plate off the floor. Clint and Elvis looked the other way, but every other man in the Chow Hall was watching the scene avidly. "Watch your backs, all you guys. Because every one of you creeps has a target on you. Don't forget that, every hour of the day and every hour of the night, for as long as you're all in this joint."
Then Ben turned and walked back over to the table where Michelle was sitting, holding her breath. He sat down and began eating his plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Wesley walked back over to Emmy, who was still waiting by the Chow Hall door.
"What does it mean, Em?" Wes asked.
"It means that Brian is not going to be forgotten, honey," Em explained as the two left the Hall and headed back up to Justin's cell. "And it also means that there's a new leader in the East Wing and maybe in the whole Quad. The Juice Pig has just announced that he's taken over. Maybe that's not what he intended, but that's what just happened. And that could change everything in this joint from now on!"
"Dr. Caputo, I have Justin out here," said Em. "If you'd take a couple of minutes to look at him? Please?" Em gave the doctor her most ingratiating grin.
Dr. Caputo stood up from his desk, sighing. "What's the problem this time, Emmett?"
"The boy says he has a pain in his side," Em explained. "He's had it for almost two days and claims it's getting worse, but I can't see anything the matter with him, Doc. He doesn't have a fever and he can walk and eat, but he keeps saying that his side hurts."
"If he was truly in pain, then why didn't you bring him down here earlier, Emmett?" said Dr. Caputo. He opened his file cabinet and pulled out Justin's folder. Justin had only been in Stanton for a couple of months, but he already had a substantial file.
"Well, Doctor C., it's like this... Justin didn't want to come over here." Em hesitated. "And he's been... a little... off lately."
"Off?" The doctor frowned. "Off in what way?"
"He's been having nightmares... and other things."
Dr. Caputo pushed open the door of his office. "That's understandable considering what the boy has been through since he came into this institution."
Emmett led the doctor to the examining room. Once again Justin was sitting on the table, swinging his legs. Dr. Caputo wondered if the boy was becoming a hypochondriac. Maybe he enjoyed the attention he was getting from the doctors and from concerned inmates like Emmett. He wouldn't be the first prisoner to have found the Hospital a good way to avoid work or boredom in the Quad.
The doctor had Justin lie on his back with his tee shirt pulled up and then he felt his way around the boy's pale abdomen. He couldn't see or feel anything out of the ordinary, but when his fingers reached Justin's lower left side, the boy flinched and gasped. Em squeezed his hand tightly.
"Does that hurt, son?" Dr. Caputo asked. "Show me exactly where."
Justin swallowed and traced a jagged line on his skin, showing the doctor where the pain was the most intense.
Dr. Caputo pressed his stethoscope carefully against the area. Then he prodded gently with his fingers. There was no heat or sound or suspicious masses. The boy had told him some odd things during his previous examination. About voices in his head. About his cellmate speaking to him. Warden Horvath had also mentioned Justin's delusions, but both men decided to leave it for the time being and see what happened.
But one thing was certain -- Justin was convinced that his cellmate was alive, even thought the rest of the inmates and staff thought otherwise. And the boy was correct. Kinney, his cellmate, WAS alive over in County General, but Dr. Caputo didn't know for how long.
The warden had decided not to make the inmate's fate known on the Quad. Horvath felt that if the men were standing around every day, waiting for word on Kinney, then tensions would remain high. But if they all assumed from the beginning that he was dead -- as he surely would be soon -- then they could settle down and get back to normal more quickly. Which is what had happened for the most part.
Except for the kid. Who insisted that his cellmate and jocker, Brian, was alive. Insisted that Kinney was talking to him. And Dr. Caputo, who had seen a lot of weird things in his years as a doctor, couldn't very well tell the kid that he was wrong.
"Be honest with me, son," said Dr. Caputo. "The pain you are having -- where is it really coming from? Is it all in your head?"
"No," Justin whispered. "It's there. I can feel it. It burns. And aches."
"Tell me where it's coming from, Justin," the doctor repeated.
Justin closed his eyes. "From Brian."
Emmett held his breath. Justin was bucking for a one-way ticket to the Psych Ward with this kind of talk! "Now, honey, you know you don't mean that!"
"I do," Justin said firmly. "It's true."
Dr. Caputo stepped over to the counter and picked up the phone. "Give me an outside line," he said. Then he dialed a number and waited. "Connect me with the IC Unit, please." He waited a minute. "Yes, this is Dr. Caputo over at Stanton Correctional Facility. I'd like an update on my patient there. Yes, immediately. Then give me the Charge Nurse. I'll wait."
"Doc, what's up?" asked Em.
"I'm checking something," answered the doctor. "Yes, this is Dr. Caputo at Stanton. I want to know if my patient has an infection in his wound. Kinney! The prisoner from Stanton!" Dr. Caputo waited while a voice read off words from a chart. "Never mind how I knew about the infection! Why wasn't I informed about it yesterday? I don't care if this man is 'only' an inmate -- he's MY patient and he's in YOUR ICU and I expect you to keep me informed about any change in his condition! Yes, I AM angry!"
"Doctor?" Em asked. He glanced at Justin's pale face. The boy was listening to every word.
"Not now, Honeycutt!" Dr. Caputo barked and then turned back to the phone. "What's the prognosis? Is he responding to the antibiotics?" The doctor sniffed at the answer. "I want the attending physician to call me the minute he shows up there -- and I mean the minute! I want some answers on this case, STAT! There is no excuse for not letting me know what's going on with this patient. Call me if there's any further change in his status." The doctor slammed down the receiver. "Goddamn idiots! I should have had him transferred to Pittsburgh as soon as he stabilized."
Em stared at Dr. Caputo. "Are you telling me that... that Brian really IS alive?"
"I already told you that, Em," said Justin. "But I knew you didn't believe me."
The doctor pulled Emmett out of the examining room and shut the door. "The warden didn't want it to be generally known that Kinney was still alive. It was his call and Horvath is the warden, not me, so... I went along with it. I didn't think it mattered because Kinney wasn't expected to make it over to County General. Then they didn't expect him to live through the first 24 hours, and then the next 48. But he did. He was still unconscious, but his condition was stable. At least until yesterday."
"What's the matter now, Doc?" asked Em, his heart pounding.
"His wound is infected. They're treating him with antibiotics, but the man is already extremely weak after losing a huge amount of blood, so it's touch and go," Dr. Caputo admitted.
"And Brian's infection is... is in his lower left side? Right where Justin has the pain?" asked Em, feeling a shiver go through his body.
"Right there," the doctor replied.
"But... how did Justin know? I mean... that pain he was feeling was right where... where Brian was stabbed? And where the infection was beginning?"
"How the hell should I know how the kid knew it, Emmett?" Dr. Caputo ran his hand over his balding head. "But, yes, that's where the infection is. And Kinney is still walking the edge. IF he makes it through the next 24 hours and IF he regains consciousness... then I'd say that he'll pull through. Otherwise...." The doctor shrugged.
Emmett held up his head and looked in the direction of the examining room where Justin was waiting. Justin had been right. Somehow he had known that Brian was alive. He had felt it. Brian had told him so. Emmett believed that now. Believed it completely.
"I'm putting my money on Brian, Doc," Emmett said. "And Justin, too. I think they'll BOTH beat the odds. And you can take THAT to the bank!"
Posted November 30, 2004.